Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Murray State University, The News, a letter from a student

Holocaust ad degrades survivors, mocks struggle

Sara Settler

Updated: Friday, April 24, 2009

April 21, 2009 may have seemed normal for many students. But for me, it was a day remembering a horrific tragedy for my ancestors more than 60 years ago: The Holocaust.

The only reason I bring up such a sensitive topic is because of an advertisement posted in last week’s issue of The News. At the bottom of page 5b, in a simple black-and-white ad that looks like it was written by a student, the advertiser states a student needs help with a research project. An ad for research help isn’t uncommon for The News, but as I kept reading, I soon found out the truth behind the ad.

It poses the question, “Can you provide, with proof, the name of one person killed in a gas chamber at Auschwitz?” My first reaction was, I don’t think anyone can list an exact name unless the person were a relative. Most people wouldn’t even know a relative had died in the Holocaust unless there were a survivor in the family. That’s when it hit me: The ad’s writer is trying to prove the Holocaust never happened. This shocked and appalled me. How could someone even think about writing an ad like this? Just off the top of my head, I can think of many important people from the Holocaust: Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank or the three survivors in my friend’s family. Is this ad suggesting these people are liars?

The ad asks the reader, “You may have been told that it is ‘morally wrong’ to ask this question. Do you think it is? Tell me why.”

Why, YES! I do think this is morally wrong. Can you name for me someone that has died in the Civil War? How about someone who died in something as recent as the war in Darfur? People can look up names for the Civil War, but for the genocide in Darfur there are no papers. Does this mean the war in Darfur isn’t happening? We have historians for a REASON! They share these facts with us and even provide pictures!

There is no way one could say these wars never happened or aren’t happening! So how can someone even question the Holocaust’s validity? All the pictures I have seen would be enough for me to believe, as well as the stories I heard in Hebrew school. I’ve even heard first-hand stories from Holocaust survivors who lost a family member.

I still remember one story: Imagine being in a crowded cattle car, not knowing where you are and without food or water for at least three days. You’re pushed out of the car and formed into a straight line; the only person you know is your brother. You notice a “doctor” is looking over everyone. Some people go to the left, while others go to the right. You go to the left while your brother is pointed right.

You soon realize your brother is nowhere to be found. You look to the right and see a huge pillar with smoke. That is how my friend’s grandmother learned she’d lost her brother that day, all because he didn’t fit into Hitler’s Aryan race. A story like this is absolutely heart-shattering, no matter what you believe.

The end of the ad states, “If you can find the one professor I am looking for, I’ll owe you a beer. At the very least.” This too is appalling! I can’t believe the way of admitting defeat is by giving the student a beer.

The writer of this ad can’t take back everything he or she has done by giving a student a beer. He or she can take back everything said in the project’s Web site, codoh.com, and write an apology to the people angered by this. I’ll be one of the people looking for it!

This is my response,
posted to the Murray State News on 28 April

Ms. Settler:

I can understand why you would be upset to learn that it is being asked if there is one professor at Murray State University who can provide, with proof, the name of one person killed in a gas chamber at Auschwitz. Particularly if your family is Jewish, and you have grown up in an environment both at home and at university when such questions are effectively taboo.

Nevertheless, I want to make three observations here. Because of what you have written above, I think it might take some struggle on your part to view these observations with some kind of inner calm. Almost everyone in your community, and probably in your family, will tell you that you are wrong to even consider thinking about it. Still, you are in university, and that is part of what is done there. Questions are asked, taboos are broken, and both sides of even the most sensitive issues are discussed. That, of course, is in the ideal university.

One: The Yad Vashem Archive collection, the largest and most comprehensive on the Holocaust in the world, comprises 55 million pages of documents, nearly 100,000 photographs, film footage and the videotaped testimonies of survivors. The library contains more than 80,000 titles, thousands of periodicals, and a large number of rare documents. And yet you have been led to believe, sincerely, that they cannot provide, with proof, the name of one person killed in a gas chamber at Auschwitz. I believe that should set off a warning bell for you.

Two: Germans are human beings just as Jews and the rest of us are. If we are going to accuse Germans of using monstrous WMD (gas chambers) during WWII to murder millions of defenseless civilians, we have the moral obligation to allow the accusation to be examined in the light of day. As a matter of fact, in my view it is morally wrong that at university such questions are taboo and students are discouraged from asking them.

Three: Watch Miami Vice. Blood is found in an alley, a pistol thrown in a dumpster. The murder weapon is investigated with the greatest of care. The identity of the victim is pursued relentlessly. If Miami Vice can do it, I would expect that Yad Vashem with its 55 million(!) pages of documents should be willing to take a run at it.

Why not?

Meanwhile, good luck to you.


Keith said...

If Miami Vice can do it so can we?

Please, Mr. Smith, at a bare minimum, give this topic the reverence it deserves.

Luken said...

I believe the Holocaust happended and agree with the mainstream interpretation of the events. I think it is silly and foolish to deny this. But free inquire cannot be witheld simply because of the emotional strenth of an issue. As long as the student placing the ad was acting out of academic intergrity and not with alternative goals, i.e. he doesn't care about history but just wants to be a jerk or doesn't like Jews or something of that nature (which I highly doubt) He needs to be allowed to enquire. (sp.)
Also I find it unfortunate that peopel jump to conclusions. Just because the student questions that Auschwitz operated as a death camp does not mean that he denies the persecution of Jews in Germany or even that there were death camps. He may simply be wondering if there was a mistake in labeling auschwitz as one of these.

Luken said...

I firmly believe in the historicity of the Holocaust and agree with the numbers, atrocities, and other facts usually cited. However, if what the student is doing is free and open enquiry of history he must be allowed to do so. Defeating someone must be done "by the rules," not through emotional appeals.
I also think that jumping to conclusions is unfounded. A historian may agree fully with the historicity of the Holocaust as a whole, but merely question elements of the Aushwitz camp. A distinction between hateful denial and honest inquire needs to be established.